Theater of Cruelty

Living in frustration for the ninth year

They risk their lives to get away from a devastated Gaza. For many young people, migration to the EU is the last straw.


In a semi-dark room with the smell of Arabic coffee where a thin beam of sunlight sneaks in through a broken window, 29 year-old Ayman al-Ghool sits on a chair. He still remembers the desperate cries of those who were with him in the cracked fiberglass boat on his way to Italy, and who at that time were some tens of miles off the Egyptian city of Alexandria.

In a purple documentary full of papers, Ayman often checks the Turkish visa he recently received in his passport, in preparation for getting his name on the list of travelers via the border post in Rafah, between Gaza and Egypt, after he failed in his previous attempt to get to Malmö and have his dreams come true, he tells Ny Tid's correspondent.

Coffee stains and scattered cigarette butts fill the tabletop on the desk by Ayman's window, along with a dusty laptop he uses to keep track of the not-very-updated website with the list of people to travel. A Gaza officer has promised to get his name among the first 500 to reach the Egyptian side of the border, just 50 meters away from the Palestinian side. Ayman has paid 600 dollars for this, in the hope of moving on to Alexandria and from there to Ankara, to finally reach the southern part of Malmö.

Escape attempt. Ayman graduated with a degree in civil engineering five years ago. He, along with 90 other Palestinians in Gaza, is waiting to travel as soon as the Rafah border crossing is opened again. This border crossing is Gaza's only opening to the outside world, but was closed after Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi took power in 000.

"As long as you don't have a foreign visa in Gaza, you have no chance to come out and see the world outside," Ayman says. He adds: "I had a very bad experience last September, which was the last time I tried to get away. I spent over $ 7000 and didn't get to Malmö, where I have relatives who say they have a Swedish passport and live in freedom. ”

On the 37th day of the 51-day attack on Gaza last summer, Ayman and eleven other youths managed to get through a 900-meter-long tunnel below the Egyptian-Palestinian border. The Egyptian army was not aware of the existence of this tunnel, after the military had destroyed hundreds of similar border tunnels in the area that stretches 14 kilometers along the common border.

"After we got over to the Egyptian side, we had to pay the owner of the tunnel $ 700 per person, but we were happy to have escaped the Israeli bombings this fateful summer," he says. "We had to stay away from control posts in Sinai, northeast of Egypt, as Egyptian military arrest anyone who does not speak Egyptian accent. They accuse us of belonging to Hamas, which fights against the Egyptian army by smuggling people through the tunnels. But for $ 500, they let us move on to Alexandria. "

When Ayman and the other Gazan migrants arrived at Alexandria's beaches, an Egyptian middleman with them in the boat began a journey away from the worries about politics and wars in succession.

On September 19, 2014, an estimated 450 migrants, mainly from Gaza, Syria and the Comoros, drowned in the Mediterranean following a quarrel between human traffickers and migrants in a boat near Italy.

Ayman was on board but survived. He was arrested in Italy and then sent back to Gaza.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) claims in a 216-page report from September last year that 22 illegal immigrants have drowned in the Mediterranean since 000.

Lost hope for the future. When Ayman is willing to try to travel away again, and thus has to undergo the same strain of stress again, he explains it this way: “I have lost hope for the future. There is no work, no stability, no freedom, any cop can stop you if you just jog across the beach. ”

Other young people Ny Tid has spoken to believe that if some country had opened its doors to the Palestinians, thousands would have rushed there to get away from this prison. People in prison elsewhere in the world know when they want to be released, but here no one knows when they will be given the freedom to create their own lives.

Susan Yusri, who studies French literature at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, says her fiancé has promised to get her out of Gaza and to Belgium with the help of his relatives who live there. 'I'm so frustrated. Either go to Brussels or be arrested in Italy, or die with a stomach full of salt water in the Mediterranean – we have no idea when things will get better here, "says Susan to Ny Tid.

About 30 students graduate in Gaza each year. 000 percent are unemployed and have a hope of being able to travel to create a future, a report from academic institutions in Gaza says.

Unemployment in Gaza is registered at 45 percent, while the proportion of poor people has increased to 60 percent in the densely populated area with 1,8 million people.

With each passing day it gets worse than before.

Mum Abu Ammouneh, 32, recently received permission from local authorities to travel via the Erez border post in the far north of Gaza on the border with Israel. But the Israeli authorities do not allow people from Gaza to travel through Israel except in very critical humanitarian situations, such as when someone needs immediate medical help.

His mum has a degree in medicine from Turkey, and he also has a visa to Germany, but he does not get anywhere. He says that young people in Gaza are living in frustration for the ninth year since the blockade was launched.

"Here we live in the world's largest prison – 360 square miles – while the outside world views us as monsters, a world we otherwise cannot see anywhere else on television," sighs Momen.

Hundreds of young Palestinians who want to emigrate have to pay over $ 6000 to travel agents who promise them visas to EU countries – visas that may not be granted or that may expire before they can leave because of the blockade.

The mom paid $ 2000 for her visa to Germany, and eagerly awaits news of opening the border crossing. The visa is only valid until mid-May. "I'm anxious to lose the right to travel."

He justifies the desire to reach Germany that he will "live in a human way".

“My brother came to Greece with the help of human traffickers, but was arrested there after the Greek authorities discovered his fake Schengen visa. He was sent back to Egypt and then Gaza after two months in prison, ”Momen says.

“Every morning we lie to ourselves that there is hope, but we achieve nothing. With each passing day it gets worse than before. ”

The director of a private travel agency says that young men and women come to his office every day to inquire about the possibilities of immigration to Europe. “But we can't meet your dreams. We all know that the situation in Gaza is tough, but they have to be patient. ”

There are numerous reports on the causes of the migration from Gaza. Some claim that Israeli intelligence is behind the migration, with the intention of emptying the Gaza strip for youth. In others, the tragic circumstances of beleaguered Gaza – wars, rising poverty, unemployment and failing hopes for a future with a dignified life – are highlighted as background factors.

Italian authorities report that more than 130 refugees from many countries have come to Italy since the beginning of 000.

Several Egyptian human traffickers have confirmed to Ny Tid that they usually receive $ 4000 from every Palestinian or Syrian who wants to get to Italy, where the police arrest them and force them to go to other countries.

Most migrants have courses in Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Austria. There they are placed in institutions similar to concentration camps for several months, while they wait for the case to decide who gets to settle there.

Despite the great risk and difficulties migrants face in the various stages of the journey – including the imminent danger of drowning – young people in Gaza are choosing migration. Whatever the risk, it is better than living in shattered Gaza, where the recent war erased any hope of a peaceful life.




Alkabariti is a regular correspondent for Ny Tid.

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